China's Alibaba wasn't the first company to create a car vending machine - that honor belongs to a Singaporean entrepreneur who transformed Singapore's Autobahn building into what appears to be a giant PEZ dispenser stocked with luxury cars.
But after months of planning, Alibaba's T-Mall (in partnership with Ford) has opened the country's first car vending machine in the city of Guangzhou. Plans are already in motion for a second vending machine to be opened in Beijing, and the company is already planning its third machine in Hangzhou.
Customers can test drive the vending machine's inventory - and if they have the cash on hand to put down a deposit, they can drive away in their new car (assuming they can convince their local Communist Party officials to issue them a license plate).
Booking test drives and other tasks can be handled via the Tmall (also known as Taobao) mobile app. According to the company, customers can pick up their cars in 10 minutes, according to the Irish Times.
The vending machine is "an important part of Alibaba's new retail strategy:
Gu Wanguo, general manager of vehicles at Tmall Auto, said the auto vending machine is an important step in Alibaba’s New Retail strategy. "By leveraging Alibaba’s data intelligence and technologies, the auto vending machine and super drive test services can enable auto brand owners and distributors better serve their customers." Gu added.
"Consumers can use the internet to access more accurate, convenient services and get a deeper understanding into particular vehicles. In the meantime, we are opening our car vending machine’s infrastructure to the entire industry to leverage and enable their distributors, in hopes of helping upgrade the automotive sector as a whole."
Sign up is done via mobile, and once they have chosen a vehicle, the buyer then takes a selfie to ensure they are the only person who can take the car from the machine, put down a deposit electronically and schedule a pick-up time, all from within the app. They then use that selfie to identify themselves and the car they have chosen is delivered to the ground floor of the car vending machine for their test drive to begin.
If they don’t like the car they initially chose they can try another, up to a limit of two. If they decide to make the purchase after the test drive, they can visit any of Ford’s 4S showrooms to pay the remaining balance after paying the deposit on Tmall.
Discounts and other incentives will also be provided to potential buyers based on consumer insights derived from user activity and history with the Alibaba group ecosystem.
Alibaba published a video demonstrating how customers interact with the vending machine: